“Knock on formica.” Notes from the PSA 404/407 meeting

Lieutenants Anthony Washington and Raul Figueras.

The Police Service Area (PSA) meeting for PSAs 404 and 407 was Thursday night at 801 Shepherd Street NW. Lt. Raul Figueras from 404 and Lt. Anthony Washington from 407 spoke to a crowd of about 20 residents and two ANC 4C commissioners. 4D Commander Wilfredo Manlapaz also attended, as did Michael Aniton from the DC Office of the Attorney General.

This was the first PSA meeting I’ve attended where I’ve heard residents say “I’m happy.” Multiple residents said it. Sure, a number of issues came up, but it seems that the general consensus is that at the moment, things are quiter in Petworth (as compared to this time last year, when there were multiple gunshots, shooting victims, a couple of gang-on-gang murders and rampant theft-from-auto). ANC 4C Commissioner Vann-Di Galloway said “It’s been quiet in my SMD lately. I haven’t heard any complaints.” 

Do you agree, does it seem quieter overall? (If not, then you know, snarky comment and all, you should have come to the meeting.)

The Lieutenants spoke briefly at first, and then asked the residents to share their concerns. While both LTs are notorious for disliking crime stats and instead prefer to speak about specific crimes affecting the community, they did share the following:

PSA 404 (compared to same time last year):
 - Crime is down 13% overall
 - Property crime is down 15%
 - Violent crime is up 2% (due to domestic violence at home which are counted as "assaults with a deadly weapon")

PSA 407 (compared to same time last year):
 - Violent crime is down 54%
 - Property crime is up 46% (equals 5 more robberies than last year at this time)

The gunshots on 7th and Delafield / Emerson were brought up by one resident.  Lt. Figueras said that MPD can’t guess where issues will occur, but they can focus on certain areas based on crime stats. Lt. Washington discussed the “Delafield 1” area that he has prioritized for officers to patrol. A 7th Street resident said she’s seen the officers, and seen that the area has quieted down. He said that the blocks around 4th and Delafield and Gallatin are still a challenge. “It’s been pretty good up there,” he said. Then he knocked on the table, “Knock on formica,” he added wryly.

Commissioner Timothy Jones (ANC 4C08) raised a concern about a house on Rock Creek Church in his Single Member District (SMD). Lt. Washington said that there has been an increase in MPD mountain bike patrols in that area, and that they’re aware of illegal activity. But again, being aware and having evidence and a warrant to arrest are very different.  

We spoke about the Petworth Market convenience store (3715 Georgia Avenue NW) and a recent seizure of boxes of synthetic drugs or illegal marijuana (found by the DC office of Tax and Revenue during their unrelated investigation). He said MPD was investigating. Assistant Attorney General Michael Aniton said he was interested in learning more details about what was found.

The Lieutenants spoke about MPD recruits that people may see around the two PSAs. The recruits are sworn police officers, but they have no weapons or radios and accompany experienced officers on patrol. You’ll probably see them in their tan uniforms along Georgia Avenue and 14th Street. (From my understanding, the MPD academy class at this time of year is extended because of the holidays, so the class has the opportunity to get more street time experience before graduation.)

Another resident asked about the assault on Sherman Circle last month. Lt. Washington said there have been no arrests, as they are not able to positively identify the suspects. They have an idea of who may have done it, but that’s not enough to arrest someone. (Note that this is a Park Police investigation, not MPD, due to the fact that the assault occurred on park property.)

Lt. Washington brought up an interesting point. He said someone recently contacted the Mayor’s office about issues on Gallatin Street, saying they had called 911 hundreds of times. Washington looked up the history and found only two 911 calls for the specific area over the past year — reinforcing the oft-repeated request to call 911 when you see something or have concerns so MPD can track it. Without historical data, MPD may not be aware of a problem area. 

Commissioner Galloway asked MPD to pay special attention to the vacant apartment building on the 4000 block of Kansas Avenue. “Look for indigents breaking into the building,” he said. According to Galloway, this has been an ongoing problem. The building is owned by Change All Souls church, who haven’t been keeping the building as secure as they should. Lt. Washington asked about the possibility for redeveloping the building. “It’s been a possibility for about 10 years,” responded Galloway. “The church received $1.5 million for the city to help redevelop it, hired many consultants and now are asking the city for more money.”

Another resident talked about break-ins and robberies around 3rd and Taylor / Upshur Street. He was broken into recently, as was a neighbor. Lt. Washington said they had some leads on a green or dark Ford Expedition and involving out-of-town juveniles. 

The Lieutenants both spoke about the fact that during the holiday time, people are watching for empty homes and watching for shoppers coming home. “You are their shopping carts,” Figueras said. 

They recommended residents consider purchasing cameras for their homes. “It won’t stop a break-in,” said Lt. Figueras, “But it’ll make it easier to catch them.” Lt. Washington recommended residents get a security door. “It’s too easy to kick in most of these doors,” he said. “And if you have a back door and a secluded back yard, it’s easier to kick in that door.”

   > Read about MPD’s holiday safety tips.

They suggested finding ways to secure doors, and to get motion-sensitive lights. “They’re less likely to rob you if there’s a bright light shining on them,” Lt. Figueras said.

Commander Manlapaz spoke about not keeping car keys and such easily accessible by a front door. “While it isn’t common,” he said, “We have had instances of people having their house broken into, and then their car stolen as a result.”

They said that drug arrests have dropped off — robbery and theft are the “typical crimes.” They said they can’t think of a single arrest for possession this year, but there have been robberies.

“We don’t have plain clothes officers available, so we look for clusters [of robberies],” Lt. Washington said. They then track those crimes to look for the suspects.

Lt. Washington then introduced a woman who lives on the 4000 block of 4th Street. He said it was a good example of a successful resolution of a nuisance property issue, where there was a problem individual at her home who was causing neighborhood issues. MPD worked in partnership with the homeowner to get that person removed and things quieted down. 

Assistant DC Attorney General Michael Aniton. 

Michael Aniton, assistant attorney general, spoke briefly about the OAG’s public safety section. He said he works mainly on abating nuisance issues in the community (he was instrumental on solving the problem with the Riyad). 

Next PSA meeting will be in February (date is TBD for now). This meeting was pretty successful because 20 people showed up. The more residents who come out, the better informed MPD can be, and the better informed you will be.

Drew Schneider

Local DC blogger in Petworth, Washington DC.

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